A Day in the Life of a Mackinac Island Taxi Driver – Part I 7/2/09

I HAD  SO MUCH FUN in the 6 hours I spent with Jeanine today that it is going to take me 2 days to tell you about it all.  There is just no way I can pack it into one blog – I must have taken 100 pictures, and now I am  trying to go through them and find the best ones to tell the story.  Part I (Thursday) will be the actual preparation that goes into getting the horses and carriages ready to begin their 5-hour (approximate) day,  and Part II (Friday) will cover the 5 hours I spent on the taxi with Jeanine for the first part of her 12-hour shift. 

First, a little about Jeanine.  She is from Rochester, N.Y., and this is her 3rd year driving for Carriage Tours.  With an Associate Degree in Animal Science with concentration in Equine Management, and an almost completed Bachelor’s Degree, she is taking some time off from academics to decide what she wants to concentrate on as a career.  Vet Tech school is one option she is considering, which would probably mean completing her bachelor’s in Biology. 

Jeanine began riding lessons when she was 10 years old and had the typical little girl’s love and fascination with horses.  She has shown hunters and jumpers, and in college showed Belgians in several hitch configurations.  It was while in college that she heard of Mackinac Island and saw a chance to use her talents on a daily basis.

When drivers apply and are hired by Carriage Tours, they come to the island in April and spend a week or more learning the ropes – literally.  They ride on what they call “the school bus”, a carriage that will hold several “students” riding with an experienced driver.  They ride the “tour” over and over again, listening to the narrative, learning the routes, and getting hands-on experience handling the horses.  They also spend time in the barn learning to take care of their horses (each taxi driver usually handles the same 4 horses each season) which includes all the preparation for a day’s work (more on this later).  Then they go do their “homework”, taking  home detailed histories of the island and its people so they are prepared for the myriad of questions they are asked each day.

The first assignment as a driver is on a tour carriage, two-horse and three-horse carriages that take hundreds and hundreds of tourists each day around the island chronicling island history and transporting visitors to famous landmarks.  All of this is on a set route, with a pretty-much set script. Since I will be riding with a tour driver sometime in the future, I will save more details on that for later.  From the most experienced tour drivers, the taxi drivers are chosen.  Carriage Tours operates 11 taxis, two wheelchair taxis, two hotel shuttles, two Mission Point shuttles, and two Stonecliffe shuttles.  They also operate 20 two-horse tour carriages and 16 three-horse tour carriages.  It is a huge operation with unbelievable logistics.

I set the clock for a 5 a.m. wake up (Ted grumbled, turned over and went back to sleep).  I didn’t spend a whole lot of time getting “dolled up” for this assignment – but I sure put on several layers of clothes.  It was 56 degrees, and I knew I would be riding at the front of the taxi.  I layered on my long-john top, a long-sleeve t-shirt, then my fleece jacket.  Blue jeans completed the outfit.  I tied my hooded rain jacket around my waist and put my earmuffs in my pocket.  Hey – I’ve learned how to dress up here for anything!

It’s a 5-minute walk to the horse barn, and I met Jeanine coming across the street to the barn from where she lives.  Most of the taxi drivers and barn employees live in (appropriately named) Barn View.  She shares a suite with 3 other Carriage Tour employees and works the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift six days a week.

I had no idea the responsibilities of a driver.  I just thought they arrived at the barn, climbed on a carriage where two already hitched horses stood waiting, and off they went.  Nope – that’s not the way it’s done.

First comes wiping down the carriage with a clean cloth.  The carriage sits out during the night, so it may have rained, or dew may have fallen, or it might just be dusty from use the day before. Today, the flaps surrounding the body of the cabin were left down because there was a chance of rain.


 We went into the barn and found Andy (left) and Thunder (right) standing in their stalls.  Andy and Thunder are bay cross-breeds.  Their bloodlines most likely carry a mix of Belgian and Percheron.


A curry comb is used on each horse to start the clean up process from a night in a stall or a night outside in the horse corral.  Thunder had obviously had a little more fun the night before than Andy as he was coated in a layer of mud.  Horses love to roll around on the ground to scratch their backs, or just for the fun of it.  The dust coming off Thunder was so thick in the air it clouded my camera lens.


After the dirt is loosened by the curry comb, a brush is used to finish the process of removing any dirt from the horse’s coat.


Jeanine then harnessed Thunder, using all kinds of strange words like martingale, crupper, and neck, breast and quarter straps.,


Next to Andy’s stall, a horse was lying down, apparently sound asleep.  I said to Jeanine that I thought horses slept standing up.  Jeanine said, “Horses are prey animals.  They sleep lightly while they stand so they can be ready to run if they are attacked.  But 2-3 hours a night, they will lie down and sleep soundly – get their REM sleep.” 


Jeanine thought it would be great fun for me to put the horse collar on Andy.  I eased into the stall, sliding carefully up next to him and tried to lift the collar over his head.  Couldn’t do it.  That horse was tall, and that collar was heavy!  Trying to help me out, Andy bent his head down almost to the floor, and I finally got it over his ears.  Then Andy lifted his head and bammed it into the stall ’cause I was in his way.  Poor Andy.  He turned his head back to Jeanine with a look that said, “OK – enough with the weak, dumb blogger.  Please come finish this and get her out of my stall.”


Since I couldn’t lift the collar, Jeanine knew better than to try me with the harness.  She did take this picture of me after she had taken it all down off the wall and put it over my head.  If she hadn’t then taken it all off of me, I would have had to pull the carriage today because I would have never gotten it off by myself!


Jeanine harnessed Andy and then took both horses outside for a bath – cool water if the weather is warm, warm water if it’s cold.



After changing into her uniform, Jeanine went back outside to use Pledge on her carriage.  The painted areas on the outside are polished each morning.


By the time she had finished, Donny and Aiden had led Thunder and Andy outside, where Jeanine joined them to do the final harnessing – adding the neck yoke that turns two separate horses into a team.


With everything done except actually hitching them to the carriage, Andy and Thunder are led out to No. 6, Jeanine’s assigned taxi, where they are backed in, with the runner separating them.  The runner is attached to the neck yoke, and they are officially ready to go.  


This entire process with Andy and Thunder only took a little over 30 minutes.  At 6: 55 a.m. Jeanine was on board, and I took one final picture before she put on her work cap.  Then I climbed up behind her, she called the dispatcher to check in as ready for customers, and we headed downtown.



The story of my day with Jeanine continues tomorrow as I ride with her on the morning leg of her 12-hour shift.  We took lots of calls, covered lots of ground, and I talked with a lot of passengers who were very excited to be photographed for my blog.  Hope to see you then!




21 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a Mackinac Island Taxi Driver – Part I 7/2/09

  1. Wow! I loved your first installment. Like everyone else, I just thought the rig magically appeared. Who knew there was that much involved in waking up horses. Are you sure we can’t talk you into posting the second installment today?

    Charlie says his “horse” (4-wheeler) doesn’t need to rest twice on the way up the hill and he could prove that given half the chance.


  2. Wow.! Now I have a lot more respect for the taxi driver`s you write about. I had no idea all that work went into getting ready to run a taxi up there. The horses, I might add are beautiful. Hope you had a good time and your pedicure didn`t get smudged.

    • Aren’t Andy and Thunder beautiful! I saw them downtown this morning and had to pet them both. Andy looked at me like, “As long as all you’re doing is scratching my ears, ok – stay away from the collar!”

  3. I love your blog. We live in Jackson, and have visited Mackinac Island for the last 2 years. Hopefully, I will get up there again this year. It’s a magical place.

  4. WOW! you are amazing in spirit and word and picture! this blog is an amazing gift and mentor to anyone wanting to bless their day with ordinary living turned extraordinary. You bring to life “each day is truly a gift.”

    I am the “teacher of writing” that you feared reading your blog and I should tell you I would share your blog as an example of true excellence! I loved your history of churches and the different themes you pick up and write upon.

    You were my inspiration of the day, — just by what you are doing with your life on Mackinac –the day we were leaving the island – from Dufina Cottage, probably one of your first trips of the day, we met the 9:30 ferry.
    Shirley (who talked to you of the history of coming 11 years and all brothers there this year — it is Shirley and Mike who are responsible for making this opportunity possible for all of us — I don’t know if we mentioned that and I thought I would give credit where credit is due if you can use it.

    It was grace to have met you.

    • Well Susan – you went and made me cry. I have always wanted to write and finally found a way to do it through the blog. It started as a way to stay connected to friends and family in Georgia and has grown in two months to about 300 readers. I find that totally amazing! I love getting out and finding the people and the stories – and, of course, when that doesn’t happen – I just let Maddie and Bear write for me (hope you read the three blogs by the pups). Seriously, your words meant so much to me – a confirmation that I can put a sentence or two together in a fashion that someone will enjoy. You made my day and week and month! Thank you so much. God bless. Brenda

    • Bree,

      I hope you now believe what your readers have been telling you. I’m glad you have validation from an unimpeachable source. We would have told you what Susan told you if we had the gift of words. You have a God given gift. Don’t hide it under a bushel!



  5. Wow! What a find – and I’m so glad I have a few days vacation to read your whole blog!!

    I first came to Mackinac Island in a basket – the summer of ’48. My parents were involved full-time with Moral Re-Armament and had been spending summers on the Island ever since Thomas Edison had recommended it to Dr. Buchman as a good place for summer conferences. And the Island has been my ‘home’ ever since. We now live in Southern California and getting back has been difficult. We come back for the College reunions every 4 years and try to spend a whole week there.

    I have been trying to keep myself in touch with the Island through the Town Crier (Jeanette’s columns are nice but this blog is soooo much better – oh, please don’t tell her or Margaret that I said that!) And since last fall I have become addicted to the boatnerd’s live camera on the roof of the Chippewa. But your pictures and stories are just wonderful! Even (most especially?) the general ones!

    My husband (whom I met on the Island) has to remind me that I DO have responsibilities today, but I will come back first thing in the morning to see what you have written. Oh, and I MUST show this entry to my daughter who drive school buses for LA Unified School District. She’ll get a kick out of cleaning and preparing the carriages every morning!

    • Hi Irene! You caught me online working on Part II of my taxi driver story. You and I were born the same year – me in June of ’48. I’m so glad you found me, and I hope you will continue to stop in and see what we are up to everyday. I can’t believe how blessed we are to be here 5-6 months a year, and I’m having one heck of a good time sharing the island with anyone willing to read about it. Thanks so much for your kind words, and I hope your “4 year trip” is coming up soon! Brenda (Bree)

  6. I really enjoy reading your blog. I can’t wait to read and see the pictures for part 2. I heard from my Mom that you talked to my daughter Alyssa (also a taxi driver) If you see Alyssa again…tell her, her Mom said Hi!

    • Hello! I’m working on Part II right now. I will definitely use one of Alyssa’s pictures on it. I’m so glad you like the blog. Alyssa said your mom will be so excited to see her picture – I bet you will be too! I just met Alyssa yesterday, and she is so sweet. Hope you are coming up to see her soon. Brenda (Bree)
      P.S. I will tell her hello from you the next time I see her.

  7. Bree,

    Thank you for this “gift”.
    We love the island and do not get up there enough.
    I would love to live there if I could.
    Your blog and pictures make my day.
    Keep up the great work.
    If we do make it up there this year we will be looking for you to taxi for us.

    Wishing you a Safe and Fun season!

    • I would love to taxi for you! Unfortunately, it’s hard to harness a horse if you can’t lift the darn harness! So glad you will be visiting soon – have a wonderful 4th of July weekend! Bree

  8. Great part one and am looking forward to part two!! It was described so well and the photos were great!!! Glad you got to meet Alyssa!!

  9. Hi Bree!
    Love your blog!! I would love to live on the island…well at least for the summer. But that is just a dream. 😉
    By the way, Alyssa is my niece! A. Kelly is my Mom!

    Take care.

    • Hi Pam! The world just keeps getting smaller and smaller, doesn’t it? Thanks for writing! I just checked out your blog, and I love it! My favorite verse is “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” I will visit your blog often.

      Brenda (Bree)

  10. Pingback: Angels in Fur Coats 4/26/2010 « Bree's Lake Blackshear Blog

  11. Pingback: Full Circle 6/25/2010 « Bree's Mackinac Island Blog

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